Seven goats will eat upwards of an acre of invasive plants over the next month around Westbrook’s Lincoln Street boat ramp.
The goats, who arrived Wednesday morning and will temporarily reside in the woods around the ramp, belong to Heather Lombard, herder-in-chief for Scape Goats out of Kennebunk. The city hired Lombard and her goats for $3,000 for a total of four weeks as part of its $267,000 project to improve the area around the boat ramp.
In addition to ridding the area of invasive plant species, the improvement project include erosion control, paving the shared parking lot with the Lincoln Street four-season rink, new lighting, a revamped boat ramp and a new city-owned shed where rental kayaks and canoes will be available.
Lombard said her goats have cleared out unwanted vegetation for multiple clients for the past six years, “as far south as York and as far north as Cumberland.” They’ve worked for other municipalities, including a job at Yerxa Park along the Greenbelt in South Portland, but most of their jobs are on private property.
“Goats in particular like invasive plants. They like bramble, thorny plants, and they can digest these bulky thorny vegetations since they have four stomachs,” Lombard said, noting they are effective at clearing out rocky and bumpy land like the area around the boat ramp.
Her goats range from Nigerian dwarf goats, the smallest full-size breed of goats, Lombard said, to larger alpines that “are a bit over 200 pounds with big horns and can be intimidating looking if you first see them but they are super sweet big babies.”
A lifelong lover of livestock and a formerly mental health professional, Lombard was inspired by similar goat-scaping businesses on the West Coast. She rescued her goats from various farms where they were to be put down, she said.
On Wednesday, she put up fencing around the area to be cleared Wednesday morning. The goats will stay for two weeks, leave, and then return Aug. 13-27. Volunteers will make wellness checks to ensure they have enough water to drink and that they haven’t escaped.
The public is welcome to visit the goats, but are asked not to feed them as that may deter them from doing their job. Visitors are also asked to keep away from fencing.
“This is an eco-friendly way to clear invasive species without chemicals. It has soil enrichment from manure, and it doesn’t take machinery into the shoreland zone,” City Project Manager Robyn Saunders said.
Once the goats clear the species, Saunders said construction on the boat ramp will start in September and wrap up this construction season.
The is still looking for the final $37,000 needed for the project. Funding so far has come from a Cumberland County Community Development Block Grant, $130,000; the sale of city-owned land, $80,000; and the open space fund, $20,000.